These teams met in the playoffs last season, the 1-8 matchup after the Hawks came through the play-in, and it wasn’t much of a series. The Heat won 4-1 and moved on to push a Boston team seven games. In the four meetings between these teams this season, Miami won three.
The Heat have had the answers for Trae Young and the Hawks for the past couple of years, but Tuesday night comes and win-and-you’re-in single play-in game. Whoever wins this game advances into the playoffs as the No.7 seed to face the Celtics, the loser will play again Friday and host the winner of the Bulls at Raptors game (for the right to be the No.8 seed in the East).
What does Atlanta need to do to win that one game? What do the Heat need to do to continue their recent trend? Here are three things to watch Tuesday night.
1) Can Trae Young handle Heat blitzing, pressure?
The Heat’s defensive strategy for Young is straightforward and aggressive — blitz him, throw different looks and defenders at him, and get him off balance. Don’t let him get a rhythm. It has worked:
• In last year’s five-game playoff series, Young averaged 15.4 points per game (down from 28.4 in the regular season), 6 assists to 6.2 turnovers a game, and he shot 18.4% from 3 (38.2% on the season).
Trae Young on the Heat’s defense:
“I haven’t been guarded like this…consistently since high school.”
— Brady Hawk (@BradyHawk305) April 25, 2022
• In four meetings this season, Young averaged 19.8 points (down from 26.2 overall) and 9.8 assists (10.2) a game, shooting 20.8% from 3 (33.5%), and having a 52.5 true shooting percentage (57.3).
Throw in the report the Hawks are willing to talk Young trade, and what is his head space going into the biggest game of the Atlanta season?
For Atlanta to have a chance, Young has to handle the Heat pressure, get the rock to Dejounte Murray and his other teammates, and trust them to make plays after he has drawn the defense. The heart of the four-time champion Warriors offense is exactly that — Stephen Curry‘s gravity draws the defenders and the rest of the Warriors take advantage. The Hawks have not consistently been able to execute that same concept, but Quin Snyder and company need Young to embrace it in this game.
If Murray is having a big game for Atlanta, that could be a good sign.
2) It’s playoff Jimmy Butler time
Miami is a team built for playoff basketball. They want a slow pace and to get physical, and the extra time off and reduced travel can help guys such as Kyle Lowry look and play closer to his vintage self.
Also, they have Jimmy Butler — his playoff performances are legendary. He was the best player on the court in the playoff series between these teams a season ago and carried that over to the meetings this season where he averaged 25 points, eight rebounds and 6.3 assists a game (he played in three of the four meetings).
Came upon this when watching Heat-Hawks stuff from last year
You never know when Jimmy Butler just goes video game mode lol pic.twitter.com/Wv2jSETEsQ
— Brady Hawk (@BradyHawk305) April 10, 2023
Atlanta hasn’t just struggled to defend Miami this season, it has struggled against everyone on its way to a bottom-10 defense. New coach Quin Snyder has not been able to change that on the fly this season, but if he and the Hawks don’t come up with a good defensive strategy for Butler and the Heat, it will be a long night for the Hawks fans.
3) Which team’s secondary stars, and role players show up?
Bam Adebayo had strong games against the Hawks this season — 24.5 points, 9.5 rebounds and four assists a game in the four meetings. If he can be an offensive force like that again, hitting floaters and getting matchups he likes, Miami will win.
Both the Heat and Hawks have struggled to get consistent play out of their role players this season and the team that does on Tuesday likely comes out with the win.
If it is Murray for Atlanta, that is a good sign — it means the Hawks have not just force-fed Young and the ball is moving to other shot creators. Maybe this becomes a strong De'Andre Hunter game or John Collins has a night. My money is on a big Saddiq Bey game, he wasn’t a part of last year’s playoff series and is a quality 3-point shooting big.
Whoever it is, the Hawks need someone to step up.
For Miami, keep an eye on Max Strus, who struggled with his shot for much of the season but was 15-of-33 (45.5%) from beyond the arc over the final five games. Caleb Martin should see more minutes, his switchability and defense has mattered in these matchups, and he can shoot the 3 ball. This also could become the Kevin Love revenge game against Cleveland.
Whichever Heat player gets hot from distance — Tyler Herro may have Young on him and should take advantage, but Herro struggled against the Hawks this season shooting 21.2% from 3 in those meetings — expect him to get the rock a lot. Miami is good about finding the hot hand and best matchup.
One other name to watch: Kyle Lowry. The Heat point guard has not played up to expectations this season, but has looked better when rested. He played nine minutes against Orlando on Sunday, but that was his only action since last Thursday, he should be good to go. If he can be another strong defender, the Heat are that much tougher to stop.